12 September 2016

Manufacturing Matters interview with Dick Elsy




Britain is an inventive nation. Our track record of ideas which have “changed the world” continues to be built. Objectively, according to the league table, we are the best in the world for producing scientific output from our research base. So we’ve maintained our inventive spirit, but what we have let slip is our ability to extract value from this science by way of manufacturing value-add. Scaling up promising early stage inventions, be they new products, processes or materials, from initial prototype through to industrial scale production is a risky and often high cost activity. It may require significant investment in bespoke equipment and facilities, as well as human resources, without any guarantee of success. It is no surprise that many inventions do not make it through to commercial reality. British reserve and a more risk-averse investment community have compounded this problem in the UK. Now, more than ever, with the challenging economic climate, do we need a reach seam of real value-added founded on “making things”.


HVM Catapult, through its seven Centres across the UK, was set up to address this failure. Over the last five years it has worked with thousands of companies to close that gap between early emerging innovation and full-scale production. Part funded by Government the HVM Catapult has consistently surpassed its output targets. It has achieved an impressive £15 net benefit to the UK economy for every £1 of Government core funding it has received and it has firmly established itself as the go-to-place for advanced manufacturing technology in the UK.


The HVM Catapult formula is based on a business offer that covers the full range of manufacturing capabilities, providing access to advanced equipment that is normally out of reach for small and even big businesses. The Advanced Forming Research Centre in Strathclyde for example, has recently acquired the largest superplastic forming press of any European research environment, and the Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry houses one of the world’s most powerful commercial lasers. This cutting edge equipment is combined with extensive manufacturing process know-how, the brainpower of experienced scientists and engineers and, importantly, R&D input from small, medium and large sized businesses. The crucial point is that partners share knowledge and work to a common goal to access capability that they could not achieve on their own in a true model of collaboration, even between competitors.


Industry demand for the HVM Catapult has exceeded expectations, with over 3,000 accessing – and paying for – its services in 2015-16. And these are not just big businesses with big R&D budgets. In the last 12 months, over 50% of the HVM Catapult industrial customers were SMEs. We have seen tremendous industry demand for our services, which is the biggest proof that our offer is right. The fact that we see more and more SMEs accessing our centres, and that they come from a wider range of sectors, is tremendously encouraging. We take what we’ve learned from big players in successful sectors such as aerospace and automotive, and use and adapt that with smaller players across a wider range of sectors. This way, we spread the benefits of technology innovation across a wider section of UK manufacturing, driving up productivity and competitiveness of the UK economy as a whole. In our ultra-competitive world where all nations, established and emerging, want a slice of HV Manufacturing, the UK can’t compete with low labour and energy cost. But it can compete with its world class brainpower and realise many of its great ideas into tangible value-added products and services. This is where the HVM Catapult is proving to be a successful formula. It is a great example of government and industry working together to build long term value for the UK.

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